Sasheer Zamata talks ‘Agatha: Coven of Chaos’ and ‘The First Woman’
Actress and Comedian Sasheer Zamata is having a magical year. Not only is her hilarious stand-up special The First
Actress and Comedian Sasheer Zamata is having a magical year. Not only is her hilarious stand-up special The First Woman headed to YouTube, but Zamata has officially joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe as sorcerer Jennifer Kale in Agatha: Coven of Chaos.
Well-recognized for her performances in shows like Hulu's Woke, ABC's Home Economics, and Moongirl and Devil Dinosaur, Zamata also co-hosts the podcast Best Friends with comedic partner Nicole Byer. She is also on the short list of Black women to grace the Saturday Night Live stage as a regular cast member. Beyond her acting pursuits, Zamata champions women's rights as an Artist Ambassador for the American Civil Liberties Union, striving to demystify intricate women's rights topics for audiences.
If Zamata seems busy, you're not wrong. However, the actress and comedian took a moment to chat with Mashable before the SAG/AFTRA strike commenced to discuss how she produced and wrote The First Woman and the importance of witchcraft on set.
The First Woman brings female empowerment to the forefront of comedy
Credit: Sasheer Zamata
Drawing from personal experiences and the deluge of major events — from the covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown to the overturning of Roe v. Wade and Brown v. Board of Education — Zamata found herself with an abundance of material from which to choose. “Narrowing things down, it became clear that there was a theme that was happening,” said Zamata. “The First Woman became more about health and womanhood and my personal being.”
Throughout The First Woman, Zamata shares a wide array of seemingly unrelated experiences: being scammed on a date, a brunch-related masturbation incident, and even the vehicular necessity of truck nuts. Yet, these situations all humorously connect to women's freedom of expression.
Zamata also highlights multiple women's issues, including the implicit racial medical bias in healthcare. Specifically, she tackles the tendency of medical professionals to disbelieve women, particularly women of color, when they describe their pain. The comedian even shares her own experience of being asked to stand for a test following a near-fatal car crash. “I've been hanging onto that car accident story for so long and didn't know what to do with it…because it was quite an ordeal,” Zamata revealed. “But as I was forming this special, I [realized] I have an obvious example of medical racial bias.”
Witchcraft and feminism intersect in Zamata's new stand-up special
Credit: Sasheer Zamata
Zamata's fascination with witches and their historical significance heavily inspired The First Woman, leading the comedian to explore themes of female autonomy, empowerment, and body positivity. Zamata says she was influenced by Kristen J. Sollee's best-selling book Witches, Sluts and Feminists: conjuring the Sex Positive.
“[The book] talks about female sexuality and the history around it. Women's bodies have been demonized for so long, and it's still happening,” Zamata explained. “Ultimately a witch is an independent woman. It's a woman who is a free thinker, in control of her womanhood, body, and life. I don't think that's a bad thing.”
The First Woman highlights those who practiced witchcraft (you will never look at a broomstick the same way again) and those who were labeled “witches” simply because they did not conform to society's patriarchy-created standards. Zamata even facilitates a judgment-free call-and-response discussion with women in the audience about the best household objects with which to pleasure themselves. She is undaunted by making the audience feel uncomfortable. “Part of a comedian's job is to go places that people may feel are taboo or touchy,” said Zamata. “I'm in a place where I am very comfortable talking about my womanhood and womanhood in general.”
Sasheer Zamata joins an all-star cast as sorceress Jennifer Kale in Agatha: Coven of Chaos
Credit: Sasheer Zamata
Speaking of witches, Zamata is more than a little excited about her role as sorceress Jennifer Kale on the upcoming Disney+ series Agatha: Coven of Chaos. She feels this witchy storyline is very much on brand for her. “I had already written material for [The First Woman] before I went through the audition process,” Zamata said. “It felt magical that I got to be in a show about witches. I talk about it so much in my special.”
Agatha: Coven of Chaos is a spinoff of WandaVision — both were created by Jac Schaeffer — which launched a new era of the MCU on Disney+ in 2021. Agatha: Coven of Chaos is centered around Kathryn Hahn's wicked witch Agatha Harkness, who was left trapped in the small town of Westview, new jersey, by the Scarlet Witch a.k.a. Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) in the season finale of WandaVision.
Zamata's character, sorceress Jennifer Kale, has an extensive history with Marvel comics, linking her to everyone from Man-Thing to Howard the Duck. But as Zamata points out, “I definitely did do as much [comic book] research as I could,” she said. “but the way we formed this character is very different from what I think people expect.”
In Agatha: Coven of Chaos, Zamata stars alongside an impressive array of talent, including Patti LuPone as Lilia Calderu, Joe Locke as Billy Kaplan, and Miles Gutierrez-Riley as Billy's boyfriend Hulkling. Aubrey Plaza will also appear as Rio Vidal, a new character created specifically for the series.
Marvel is giving Agatha: Coven of Chaos an extended season of nine episodes on Disney+
Credit: Sasheer Zamata
When discussing her experience on set, Zamata couldn't contain her enthusiasm. “[Shooting the show] was so magical and ethereal. It brought that out of everyone on set,” she said. “There were crystals and candles everywhere. We saged and cleansed the stage all the time. It was the perfect environment for me.”
Fans can look forward to a full nine episodes of Agatha: Coven of Chaos, an extension beyond Disney's usual six-episode run for their superhero streaming shows.
Although the series completed principal photography, the plot details remain a mystery, leaving fans to speculate. With the addition of cast members Debra Jo Rupp and Emma Caufield Ford reprising their roles from WandaVision — plus the fact that Wanda appeared to be killed at the end of Doctor Strange: In the Multiverse of Madness — it's within the realm of possibility that the series could revisit Westview and witness Agatha breaking free from Wanda's spell.
Zamata could not confirm nor deny our speculations — but, in a reflection of Emilia Clarke's experience while filming Secret Invasion with Marvel Security, said, “I got the exact same spiel that Emilia did. ‘Don't take pictures in hotel rooms. They could come find you. I was so scared to have physical scripts. After I was done with them, I would just throw them at a producer!”
When asked if she's ready to join the MCU, one of the most significant franchises — with a massive, global fanbase — she replied with conviction, “I have been dying to be a part of [the MCU] for years. This is perfect.”
The First Woman will air from August 15 on the 800 Pound Gorilla website with a “pay what you want” model, in which fans can contribute $2 or more to watch the special before it drops on YouTube for free on August 29.
Agatha: Coven of Chaos will premiere on Disney+ in 2024.